The Garw Valley Heritage Society are proud to present a story by Roy Davies, remembering his early days in the Garw.
In the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, we are printing one part per week.
The following is an account of the author’s boyhood in the Garw Valley when gangs of boys collected anything and everything months in advance to build their bonfires for November 5th.
Part 3, The Oath
There was a long silence as they all listened to the breeze playing around the old nail holes in the side of the zinc shed as if it might bring them the first warnings of invasion and just then, when they had begun to believe they were safe for another night, the boy who was prepared to fight all of them as long as they fought fair, spoke with uncanny timing:
“I know for a tyre!”
“What did you say?” came from the fern tunnel.
“I said I know for a tyre, that’s all” said the boy again.
“A tyre! Where?”
“Where, where,” came from the others around the shed.
Suddenly, after a rustling and a scrambling and much shouting as in their excitement they banged into the shed or lost their footing on the loose collection of rubbish, the boys surrounded the speaker as he lay back on the boxes from Peglers stores they had fetched that afternoon.
“How do you know?”
“Who told you?”
“Can we get it?”
“Can we get it”, one of the other boys repeated as he shook the boy on the boxes by his shirt front. “Can we get it?” Can we?”
Rubber tyres had been extremely scarce during the war and in the years that followed they were still rare. Rumours about tyres fed the excitement of bonfire night for the many gangs of children.
One had once been seen in the middle of the Black River but by the time its discoverer had got help and gone back to fish it out it had already been removed by some other gang.
Tyres were rare because cars were rare but a tyre, and the status it conferred on a gang, could make or break a bonfire night. Because they had never had one, the boys were even more insistent on hearing more about it.
“The Glannanters had a tyre two years ago and everybody tried to get it off them once they knew about it,” one of the timid boys whispered. “Tyres are more trouble than they’re worth.” He repeated a phrase his mother used all the time.
“Look! I know for a tyre and we can ger it,” the informed one said. “Now d’you wan’a ger it or don’ew?”
There was a short silence. They all agreed they wanted the tyre.
“Righto’en,” the boy continued. “Bur’I’m no’ telling any of ‘ew where it is or ‘ow I know ’till I’m sure I can trust’ew with the secret.”
“‘Ew can trust me,” said the timid boy. “I won’tell nobody, will I?” he asked turning the question to the boy nearest to him in the darkness.
“Nor me, swear on my mother’s life, criss cross my heart and hope to die,”and the boy spit on his hand and offered it to the keeper of the secret.
“I’m not telling nobody until we’ve become blood brothers,” the boy said. “Then nobody is going to talk to nobody else for fear that the crows will come down and peck out their hearts through their gobs and drop it in the Black River for to feed the eels.”
There was absolute silence.
“I wouldn’tell nobody, I wouldn’, I told ‘ew – ‘onest,” said the very timid boy when he realised the enormity of the consequence of breaking his loyalty to the gang. “But do we ‘ave to be blood brothers? I seen it done in the pictures and it looked awful painful and the only knife we ‘ave is blunt an’ rusty?”
“Do you wanna get this tyre or don’ew?” the informed one demanded, “‘cos if ‘ew do we’ve gorra ger’i tonight or somb’dy else might come to know of it.”
“Bur’ave we got time to become blood brothers and ge’ the tyre?” one of the boys asked. “Don’ we ‘ave to prepare ourselves for a ceremony or something?”
” ‘Es right, ‘e is,” said the very timid boy. ” ‘Ey do it in the pictures much slower.
The boy who knew for the tyre lost patience.
“Alright,” he said firmly, “p’raps we ‘aven’t got time to be proper blood brothers with a knife cut in the wrists with Indian music and all, but we ‘ave to swear on a Bible and spit on it and mix up all the gob so that the one who tells Morpho or anybody will go to the burning fires of hell.”
He drew out this last word so that all the boys in the shed swallowed hard to clear their throats. They had all seen pictures of hell in Sunday school but mixing their spit on a Bible wouldn’t be as painful as slitting their wrists with a blunt and rusty knife, so they all agreed to the new plan.
“Alright, I agree to mix my spit on the Bible,” one voice said.”
“But we must all stir it with our pointing fingers at the same time as well,” said the informed boy making up a new horror.
“And then we must lick it in turn,” the boy added, having just thought of this even more distasteful and degrading ending to the ceremony they were about to undergo.
“Ugh! I don’wanna lick it,” the timid boy said.
“We’ve gorrw if the secret is to be safe and we are really bound to each other,” one of the other boys insisted.
There were no further objections and the timid boy left the shed to fetch his school Bible because his house was closest. The others lit the tiny stump of candle which was placed for emergencies on the wooden cross beam at the back of the shed and stared at each other in the grotesque flickering light, excited and afraid at the adventure they were about to have and the prize they were going to claim. There was a shudder as the timid boy pulled open the jammed door of the shed.
“Come on in, quick,” they all shouted as the flame of the candle was sent one way and then the other by a soft breath of wind as the warm air inside the shed rushed out into the night.
“I could only find the New Testament,” the timid boy said. “Will that be the same as the whole Bible?”
“It’ll do, I s’pose,” said the organiser, “but most of the bits about hell are in the other half.
“..and its not black but green” the timid boy added in a soft voice. “They’re all green in our school now.”
“Green!” the boy echoed in disgust. But he took the book and held it with the title upwards in both hands in the middle of the circle of boys. Their faces all looked strange and different in the candlelight.
“Are ‘ew ready?”
They all nodded.
The boy held the Bible under his mouth, coughed up some phlegm from his throat and spat it out onto the book. The little pool shook as he passed the Bible to his left. The next boy wet his lips, put his tongue between them, and spat from the end of it.
“Not like that. A real gob, like mine.”
The second boy looked down at the Bible, drew up the thick deposits from the back of his throat and spat onto the book again.
“That’s better. Now the rest of you – like that.”
They all did so in turn, each aware of the seriousness of their vows as the growing pool of spit spread across the book’s cover.
“Now all of you use your pointing fingers to stir it around.”
The boys touched the slimy surface and together they swept it with increasingly firmer strokes until all of their spit had been mixed together and spread outwards towards the edges of the soft green cover.
“Now lick it. You first,” said the boy, now firmly in charge of the ceremony, to the boy on his left.
“I don’wanna go first. Why me? Why not im?” he pointed to the very timid boy.
“Ugh! I’ll be sick,” said the very timid boy.
“It was your idea, why don’you go first?” Said the boy on his right.
“Alright, I’ll go first,” he said, “but anybody who don’t do it after me is a traitor and a coward and will be thrown out of the bomfire.”
They all looked at each other in the flickering candlelight and then the boy licked the cover that by then was slowly absorbing the pool of spit.
“There. See?” he challenged them. “I done it, now it’s your turn and you’d better hurry up or there’ll be no spit left to stir!”
The others in turn and with varying degrees of happiness each licked the cover while trying not to show the revulsion they felt. When they had all finished the boy reminded them of their vow of secrecy and silence.
“Promise?” he demanded.
“I promise” they repeated in turn and the boy put the book on the wood by the candle and as soon as he had balanced it there they all squealed for information.
To Be Continued….